Thursday, October 06, 2005

Conflict and One Dimensional Thinking

One huge area where people have a lot of trouble in life, is dealing with conflict and struggle. For a lot of us, our thinking starts to get muddled when we find ourselves in a conflict situation.

You've probably heard the proverb: If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.

Part of the problem, I think, is that we typically learn just one way to approach conflict. We don't develop an full repetoire of skills. And when our range of options is so limited, we often end up using the wrong tool for the job. Sometime with bad consequences for ourselves, or for others.

Another key problem is that we often start out with a counterproductive attitude towards conflict. This can be tied up with the reasons for the limited repetoire -- a flaw in our belief system about conflict.

Many of us are brought up to believe that conflict is bad. We must avoid it at all costs. Or we must resolve it immediately. Some of us believe that, where conflict is concerned, we have to confront all problems without hesitation. Some just consider conflict sinful, or evil.

Conflict has gotten bad rap.

In my mind, we need to see conflict as a neutral thing. In itself it is not bad. It just is. It is a part of our lives. It is there. It is more or less a constant of life.

It is important to see it as a neutral thing. Like a knife. A knife can be used as a weapon. A knife can also be used to cut bread or, in the case of a scalpel, to save lives.

Likewise, conflict can harm us -- as in war. It can also help us -- as in the struggle between family members who are working out their differences. It can entertain us. And, it can sustain us as we learn to compete for our livelihood.

It will always be here. We may resolve one conflict, but another will always be coming over the hill. Except when you're dead. Then you can relax. (Maybe).

The next problem -- actually the first problem -- is the problem of a limited repetoire.

When people have a limited repetoire of tools and approaches to conflict, they find themselves getting frustrated more often. I suspect you would get frustrated, too, if you found yourself in a difficult situation where you didn't have the appropriate tools.

What, for example, would you do if you were Batman, and the Joker had just pushed you off the roof of a tall building. And when you reach into your utility belt, all you find is a hole puncher? You'd be pissed!! You might feel the need to swear a bit. (Holy toolcase, Batman, I hope you read my post entitled "F*CK MEANS TH*NK!!!".). You are going to get very frustrated indeed. If you survive the fall, that is.

What were you thinking, Bats? Did you think that you should limit your array of available tools to just a hole puncher because you didn't want to escalate the conflict?

What our Batman example doesn't illustrate is that when we get frustrated...because we don't have an appropriate array of tools and approaches to conflict situations...when we get frustrated...we often start to flail...or lash out...and we end up escalating and complicating the conflict.

We escalate conflicts when we flail. We flail because we are frustrated -- or panicky -- or confused. We typically get frustrated because we have too limited an repetoire for dealing with conflict. We often have too limited a repetoire because our attitudes towards conflict are wrong. They may be too lax. They may be too fearful. The may have been influenced by an inappropriate belief system that leads us to believe that conflict is bad.

Conflict is neither good nor bad. It just is.

If you look in the self-help area of the local bookstore, you will probably find lots of books that tell you how to handle conflict.

Some will say that you need to learn to be more assertive. That's the solution, they say.
Others say that you must learn to "dissolve" conflict.
Others will say that you need to find a win-win solution.
Others tell you "not to sweat it".
Some may tell you that you need to not engage in conflict: here's how to be nice in all situations.

There really is a lot of advice books out there, but almost every one offers just one single approach. A single formula.

That is very unrealistic. But having just one approach to all conflict is a dangerous way to approach life, and a great way to magnify one's stupidity.

Okay -- sorry to interrupt -- but I have to go right now. There's more to this topic, but I'll have to pick it up a bit later.

Thanks for reading this far.


Blogger Phil Plasma said...

As you well know, I use the tenet from Salvor Hardin that 'Violence is the last resort of the incompetent'. So with respect to conflict I have always tried to find non-violent ways. Do I purposefully avoid conflict? Sometimes I do, when I see that the conflict will serve no good purpose. Do I initiate conflict? Sometimes when I see that the person I am dealing with will be reasonable and argumentative, not hostile or defensive. Do I think that conflict is good or bad or absolutely requires resolution? I don't think I've given that question much thought, but now that I am I figure that conflict can be useful in some cases and harmful in others. I guess that makes it neutral on average.

word verification: ellfzuzh

What did you see? ellfzuzh what I saw

8:22 AM  

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